First Days in Prison / Pablo Pacheco

A hustle and bustle filled the air as the ringing of the “wake up” bells resonated throughout the prison. The scene was similar to that of a rooster fight, right at the most exciting moment of the battle. For a second, I could have sworn I was in a dream and that all of these events were figments of my imagination, but seconds later I realized that this was all real.

A tall mulatto soldier used the same large spoon designated for handing out water and sugar to the prisoners to bang on the bars of my cell. Before he continued giving out breakfast, he left a piece of stiff bread in the only opening of my new home.

My appetite was far from being the same one I used to have. I didn’t ingest a single thing. I submerged myself in family memories, which served as the only shield I had against all the henchmen who surrounded me. Suddenly, I heard a voice of authority: “Stand ready to be counted!” At the time, I didn’t understand such an order so I just opted to continue thinking about what had happened to me. Minutes later, however, soldiers opened the doors to my dungeon and the official superior guard who had checked us in the night before said, “Pablo, why are you not preparing yourself for the count? You don’t hear the command?”

Without hesitating, I responded, “I think you have made a mistake, Captain Emilio, for I am not a soldier, I do not take orders.”

That chief officer of order in Aguica did not expect to hear such an answer. I could tell that his eyes were full of fire, hate, and arrogance. I did not look away from his stare, and I think that attitude won me a few favorable points in the future. Another one of the guards then stated, “Let’s go chief, we’ll eventually have enough time to re-locate this CR (with time, I figured out that these initials stood for ‘Counter-Revolutionary’). “

“Yes, you’re right,” Emilio assured as he turned around to exit my cell, sarcastically adding, “the slogan of this prison is: ‘You’re in Aguica. Get yourself straight or we’ll do it for you.’”

I continued to stare back at him, for it was the only response I could use.

The other prisoners who resided around me heard the entire conversation. When all those prison guards walked away, the inmates started to ask, “Hey, new one, where are you from?”

“Ciego de Avila,” I replied.

“Be careful. That guy is the most abusive within the entire prison.” I told them that I’d keep that in mind. The closest prisoner to my cell introduced himself as Raciel, and as a resident of the municipality of Matanzas known as Cardenas.

“Are you a political one?” he asked.

“Yes,” came my response.

A third prisoner then jumped into the conversation, exclaiming, “That’s why you spoke back to Emilio that way!”

That morning was filled with questions and answers with the common prisoners- a dialogue which is normal when we enter a new world that we are supposed to get used to. The faster we integrate into the process, the least damage will be done to our immediate future. Through my new companions-in-misery I found out that Miguel Galban, also a member of the 75 and native of the municipality of Havana dubbed as Guines, was in the galley section known as “The Polish”, as was Roberto de Miranda, native of the capital. The latter suffered from a weak state of health, so he was actually imprisoned in the hospital ward of the prison.

That day, I did not eat lunch and I only ate that small piece of insipid bread with mayonnaise, in addition to a glass of sugar and water. I spent the remainder of most of my afternoon looking over old family photos and reading my Bible. Truthfully, I could not find peace in anything else. I showered when night fell and I filled two bottles of water given to me by Jesus, another prisoner who displayed his solidarity with me from the very beginning. Fortunately, he warned me that the valuable liquid was only given twice a day and that we had to take full advantage of it.

I continued thinking before finally falling asleep. I could not fathom that human beings lived in such deplorable conditions for so many years on end. There was cruel treatment, poor diets, and horrid bathrooms which were just holes on the ground — and we were supposed to shower there, clean our utensils, and brush our teeth. In addition, we had to somehow jam all our belongings in this tiny space of two meters by two. I was far from accepting and understanding that the following 16 months will be marked by similar experiences as that of these other prisoners, and in some cases even worse. Our allowed visits, which only lasted two hours, were planned by the guards every three months. Priority was given to elderly family members and young children. Conjugal encounters were only allowed every 5 months and only 30 pounds of food and goods were allowed in. Nearly every aspect was twice the pain for us.

Today, I still ask myself how I was capable of living through such horror. I would say that the inner strength which we all harbor deep inside, in addition to the justice of our own convictions, was what helped me to stand back up to face any sort of obstacle. This also helped me to draw up an objective that would sustain me during my captivity. I made the decision to describe the reality of the Cuban jail system to the world. Perhaps my voice was just a small voice, but without it, truth would have been much more diminished.

NOTE: Pablo Pacheco was one of the prisoners of Cuba’s Black Spring, and the initiator of the blog “Behind the Bars.” He now blogs from exile in Spain and his blog – Cuban Voices from Exile – is available in English translation here. To make sure readers find their way to his new blog, we will continue to post some of his articles here, particularly those relating his years in prison in Cuba.

December 28, 2010